Legislative Round-Up: March 16, 2018

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Legislative Round-Up was conceived

  1. Bills & Resolutions
  2. Hearings & Markups
  3. On the Record
  4. Which Members of Congress Spoke at AIPAC?

1. Bills & Resolutions

(HERE’S TO MORE US-ISRAEL COOPERATION AGAINST IRAN!) H. Res. 785: Introduced 3/15 by Conaway (R-TX), “Expressing support for continued cooperation between Israel and the United States to ensure adequate capabilities to counter Iran's destabilizing activities and support shared interests, including stability and safety in the Middle East, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(NEW FRONTIER IN OUTLAWING ISRAEL-RELATED BOYCOTTS): Hot on the heels of the AIPAC policy conference (which was the occasion for a strong presence in Washington of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, the leaders of which, according to Israeli investigative reporting, “see themselves as the heads of a commando unit, gathering and disseminating information about ‘supporters of the delegitimization of Israel’”), Rep. Zeldin (R-NY) this week circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on letter the chair and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations. The letter (a) equates BDS with terrorism, and (b) urges appropriators to add language into the FY19 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill (the bill funding U.S. foreign assistance programs worldwide) imposing a new vetting requirement to ensure that no U.S. funding goes to NGOs that “participate in the BDS movement.” Notably:

  • Global Gag Rule, take 2? This is, in effect, an effort to impose a Mexico City-style policy, also known as the “Global Gag Rule” in order to quash legal, non-violent protest of Israel and its policies. That is, to impose, by statute, a global screen barring U.S. funding to any organization that supports BDS (just like the global screen regarding support for abortion).
  • Conflation, conflation, conflation: As with other legislation ostensibly taking on BDS, the primary target here is likely NGOs that differentiate – consistent with international law, EU policy, UN policy, and broad international consensus – between Israel and settlements. However, it should be recalled that under President Obama, two bills were signed into law that included a definition of “boycott Israel” that explicitly erases that distinction (a definition that has since been repeatedly referenced in draft legislation, including in S. 720 and in state laws). Should this new Israel Global Gag policy be adopted, it is certain that it would further consecrate this conflation into law, in effect barring U.S. funding to NGOs that refuse to treat settlements as part of Israel.
  • Vetting as a political weapon against NGOs & beneficiaries: Applying anti-terror vetting in the context of support for boycotts of Israel and/or settlements (aside from being outrageous and offensive) also raises serious questions about how such vetting would be implemented. Zeldin’s letter refers to NGOs that “participate in" BDS, but USAID counter-terror vetting applies not just to the NGOs themselves, but to their directors, board members, and employees. As such, this Israel Global Gag policy appears to be an effort not just to compel NGOs, as a matter of organizational policy, to reject boycotts of Israel and/or settlements, but to require NGOs to impose that same requirement on private individuals associated with or employed by them. Moreover, if West Bank/Gaza-style vetting requirements were applied, such vetting would apply equally to an NGO’s beneficiaries – in effect, making rejection of boycotts of Israel and/or settlements a condition for an individual receiving humanitarian aid.
  • Extraterritorial application of anti-free-speech U.S. policy: The Israel Global Gag Rule Zeldin is proposing is designed, in effect, to take a policy that is brazenly unconstitutional in the U.S. context and apply it extraterritorially, with potential impact far beyond the Middle East. For example, imagine a USAID partner NGO that does critical work in Rohingya refugee camps, but under this rule barred from U.S. funding unless it can certify that it every employee, officer, and (potentially) beneficiary WORLDWIDE rejects boycotts of Israel and settlements.
  • Why this should be taken seriously: The Zeldin letter come quite late in the game in terms of the Subcommittee’s consideration of SFOPS text, making it less likely that his proposal will make it into the subcommittee’s draft. However, there is every reason to expect that (a) the Israeli government actively backs this effort, (b) AIPAC will likely back it, and (c) members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will jump on board, based on their past eagerness to jump on opportunities to demonstrate how tough they can be on BDS, and given that other pending gag laws are being held up because, yes, they are brazenly unconstitutional. Indeed, there is nothing really surprising in Zeldin’s proposal (some of us had long been anticipating something like this), other than that it took this long to happen. And if it is added to U.S. law, its implications of it are potentially enormous.

(TAYLOR FORCE ACT- UPDATE) S. 1697 & HR 1164: This legislative effort to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority unless/until the PA and the PLO cease providing financial support to families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel. [For background on why this approach won’t stop terrorism and is a form of collective punishment, see my op-ed in The Nation: Cutting Off Payments to Palestinian Families Won’t Stop Terrorism]. The House passed HR 1164 on 12/5/17 and it was received in the Senate on 12/7/17, and has since been stalled (for details, see the February 16th edition of the Round-Up). Hill gossip confirms the story run this week in the Jewish Insider, suggesting that the hold up is party technical (a question of how Senate leadership prioritizes the use of limited, precious floor time – a question raised here because one or more senators have objected to the legislation moving by unanimous consent), and partly substantive, reflecting a battle between House and Senate leaders on the measure over what funding would be exempted from the ban. Also see: ICYMI: Corker on Taylor Force Act: ‘I Think It Will Become Law Soon’

(OTHER AIPAC-BACKED INITIATIVES – UPDATE) As noted in last week’s Round-Up, a number of bills and resolutions were introduced, and sign-on letters circulated, in the context of the AIPAC policy conference – those that are central to AIPAC’s legislative agenda are now helpfully featured on AIPAC’s website. Here is a quick update of where they stand, as of 11am on March 16th:

  • IRAN: AIPAC is pushing HR 5132 (NIAC’s memo raising concerns about the bill is here). Since it’s introduction by Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY) on March 1, it has attracted a total of 70 cosponsors(39R, 31D). AIPAC is also pushing the Corker-Menendez letter discussed in last week’s Round-Up. No word yet on how many co-signers there are.
  • Taylor Force Act: AIPAC is calling for supporters to push Senators to pass this bill (does not explicitly weigh in on whether it prefers House or Senate version).
  • Expand Assistance to Israel: AIPAC is pushing HR 5141 and 2497 the “United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018,” discussed in last week’s Round-Up. As of this writing. The House version has 82 cosponsors (50R, 32D), and the Senate version has 20 (12R, 8D).
  • Israel Gag Laws: AIPAC is pushing both 720 and HR 1697 (the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act”) and S.170 and HR 2856 (the “Combating BDS Act of 2017”). In the wake of the policy conference: S. 720 has attracted 4 new cosponsors (3R, 1D) for a total of 55 (41R, 14D); HR 1697 has attracted 9 new cosponsors (6R, 3D), for a total of 279 (207R, 72D); S. 170 has gained 1 new cosponsor (Risch, R-ID), for a total of 47 (32R, 15D); and HR 2856 has gained 6 new cosponsors (5R, 1D), for a total of 114 (82R, 32D).
  • Hizballah sanctions: AIPAC continues to feature as part of its legislative agenda 1595 and HR 3329, “The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017.” However, there doesn’t seem to be much energy behind this, given that S. 1595 is stuck at 39 cosponsors (none added since Oct. 18, 2017) and HR 3329 is stalled at 114 cosponsors (none added since Oct. 24, 2017).


2. Hearings

March 21, 2018: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing entitled, “Implications of a U.S.-Saudi Arabia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement for the Middle East.” Scheduled witnesses (as of this writing) are: Henry Sokolski, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center; William Tobey, Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; and Sharon Squassoni, GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

March 20, 2018: The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Exploring the Financial Nexus of Terrorism, Drug Trafficking, and Organized Crime.” Witnesses will be: Joseph Humire, Center for a Secure Free Society; Derek Maltz, Pen-Link, Ltd.; Celina Realuyo, National Defense University; and Louise Shelley, George Mason University. The framing for the hearing, according to the Hearing Memorandum, is: “…Given the profit potential, terrorist and insurgent groups have been steadily incorporating criminal activities into their business models, thus blurring the line between TCOs and terrorist organizations. Most notably, Hezbollah, with the backing of Iran, has developed lucrative criminal enterprises in both South and Central America that encompasses transnational trade in narcotics, military weapons, and hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit cash proceeds.

March 20, 2018: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting (no webcast) to deal with a number of pieces of legislation, including S. Res. 85, “A resolution calling on the Government of Iran to fulfill repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation's history.”

March 15, 2018: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a markup on a number of pending bills and resolutions, including HR 4681, the “No Assistance for Assad Act”; HR 4744, the “Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act.” Both were ordered reported, as amended – after the committee adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute for both bills. The substitute text for HR 4681 is here; the substitute text for HR 4744 is here. Video of the mark-up is here. Wilson (R-SC) press release celebrating the mark-up is here.

March 6, 2018: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security held a “Roundtable Discussion with Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem” in order to “discuss issues concerning Jerusalem and the U.S.-Israel relationship, including the upcoming relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” Video of the roundtable is here.

March 6, 2018: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “Worldwide Threats.” Witnesses were Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats (testimony) and Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (testimony). Both testimonies touched on issues in and related to the Middle East. Video of the hearing is here.


3. On the Record

Chabot (R-OH) 3/15: Calling For The End Of The Syrian Civil War And For President Bashar Al-Assad To Step Aside

Brooks (R-IN) 3/15: VIDEO: Brooks Addresses 7 Years of Civil War in Syria

Markey (D-MA) 3/15: Senator Markey Questions Saudi Arabia’s Intentions Toward Nuclear Power: More About Megatons Than Megawatts

Paul (R-KY) 3/14: Dr. Rand Paul Announces Opposition to Pompeo, Haspel Nominations [“…I believe President Trump has done a great job, and I continue to support him, but I cannot endorse his nomination of people who loved the Iraq War so much that they want an Iran War next. Director Pompeo has not learned the lessons of regime change and wants regime change in Iran.”]

McCollum (D-MN) 3/13: Statement on Nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State [“…I served in the House with Mike Pompeo and I can think of few people more ill-suited to be Secretary of State. Mr. Pompeo has opposed international engagement, undermined the Iran nuclear agreement, and advocated for torture…”

Reed (D-RI) 3/13: Opening Statement at SASC Hearing on US Central Command & US Africa Command [“…the President risks creating a foreign policy crisis by threatening to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. By all accounts, the JCPOA is working as intended and Iran is verifiably meeting its commitments under the agreement. Let there be no doubt, Iran continues to be a state sponsor of terror and an abuser of human rights. Iran continues to destabilize the region through its development of ballistic missiles and support for proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere. The JCPOA was not intended to address all of Iran’s bad behavior, just the nuclear aspect. If Iran behaves this way without a nuclear weapon, imagine how much worse a nuclear-armed Iran could be. Withdrawing from the JCPOA would be a devastating blow not only to the Middle East, but also for our efforts at diplomacy with North Korea – and for any future diplomatic efforts to constrain aggressive behavior by our adversaries…”]

Graham (R-SC) 3/13: U.S. CENTCOM Commander General Votel Confirms To Graham: Iran, Russia 'Key Enablers' Of Assad

Beyer (D-VA) 3/13: Trump Chaos “Is Dangerous and Jeopardizes Major Diplomatic and Security Priorities” [“…I am particularly concerned about the fate of the Iran Nuclear Deal, which President Trump cited as a factor in his decision to fire Tillerson…”]

Graham (R-SC) 3/12: WSJ op-ed – “The Most Unnerving Visit to the Middle East in a Long Time”

Rubio (R-FL), Nelson (D-FL) and Deutch (D-FL) 3/12: Rubio, Nelson, Deutch Call out Iran for Denying Commitment to Assist with Bob Levinson Case

Menendez (D-NJ) 3/9: Sen. Menendez on the 11th Anniversary of Bob Levinson’s Capture in Iran

Deutsch (D-FL) 3/9: Rep. Deutch Statement on Anniversary of Bob Levinson's Disappearance

Lamborn (R-CO) 3/8: statement on the anniversary of the death of Taylor Force

Durbin (D-IL) 3/8: Floor speech on Syria

Poe (R-TX) 3/8: JPost op-ed- “It is vital that we strike Iran’s proxies before they mature into new Hezbollahs

Perdue (R-GA) 3/8: Senator David Perdue Questions U.S. Military Commander About Russian & Iranian Aggression

Inhofe (R-OK) 3/7: Inhofe Meets with AIPAC Members [some context from the archives: Inhofe’s 2002 speech laying out his top 7 reasons why “why Israel is entitled to the land they have and that it should not be a part of the peace process” – the top reason being, in essence, because God said so.]

Cruz (R-TX) 3/7: ICYMI: Sen. Cruz: Hezbollah is Greatest Threat Posed by Iran, North Korea’s Offer to Negotiate Denuclearization is Propaganda

Johnson (R-LA) 3/7: Johnson, Crist Bill Included in Major US-Israel Security Package

Ryan (R-WI) 3/6: Speaker Ryan Welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Capitol

Culberson (R-TX) 3/6: VIDEO: Culberson Addresses AIPAC Policy Conference

Lamborn (R-CO) 3/6: Thanking Guatemala for Joining US in Moving embassy to Jerusalem

Menendez (D-NJ) 3/6: Senator Menendez Remarks at AIPAC Policy Conference [“…there is continuing, overwhelming bipartisan support for Israel in the United States Congress. You saw that overwhelming bipartisan support in the passage of CAATSA by a margin of 98 to 2. You saw that bipartisan support in the introduction of theAnti-Israel Boycott Act, legislation that will confront the misguided and bigoted BDS movement. You saw it in a bipartisan letter urging Israel’s inclusion into the Global Entry Program, signed by all 100 members of the U.S. Senate. You saw it when the House of Representatives passed the Taylor Force Act, which says NO to funding the Palestinian Authority’s continued incitement of violence and financial support for convicted terrorists - an effort I urge the Senate will take up in short order. And you saw that bipartisan support in the historic, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding we fought to secure in 2016 — an agreement that ensures Israel’s defenses remain unmatched in the region, and that the United States and Israel continue developing defense technologies of astounding sophistication like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and the Arrow 3 missile defense systems. These technologies have not only saved the lives of Israeli civilians threatened by Hamas rockets – they’ve enhanced the security of America’s own forces. And above all, we remain united in our support for a two-state solution, with Israel’s capital in Jerusalem, which will ultimately be the best guarantor for a secure, peaceful, and democratic Jewish state.”]

Heller (R-NV) 3/6: Heller Discusses Relocation of U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem with Nevadans Representing AIPAC

Scalise (R-LA) 3/6: Scalise Speaks at AIPAC, Holds Meeting with PM Netanyahu

Cruz (R-TX) 3/5: ICYMI: Sen. Cruz to Fox News: ‘There is No Reasonable Argument Why We Should be Sending U.S. Tax Payer Dollars to Fund Terrorists Who Are Murdering Americans’

Casey (D-PA) 3/4: Floor speech on Syrian Civil War


4. Which Members of Congress Spoke at AIPAC?

For anyone who is curious, here is the list of members of the House and Senate who appeared as official speaker (on the schedule) of AIPAC’s 2018 Washington Policy Conference:

  • House Democrats: Boyle (D-PA), Brown (D-MD), Deutsch (D-FL), Engel (D-NY), Hoyer (D-MD), Klobuchar (D-MN), Langevin (D-RI), Meng (D-NY), Moulton (D-MA), Murphy (D-FL), Panetta (D-CA), Pelosi (D-CA), Schiff (D-CA), Schneider (D-IL), Sherman (D-CA)
  • House Republicans: Chabot (R-OH), Herrera (R-WA), Kelly (R-MS), Mast (R-FL), McCarthy (R-CA), McHenry (R-NC), Pittinger (R-NC), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Royce (R-CA), Scalise (R-LA), Taylor (R-VA), Zeldin (R-NY)
  • Senate Democrats: Cardin (D-MD), Coons (D-DE), Menendez (D-NJ), Schumer (D-NY)
  • Senate Republicans: Cotton (R-AR), McConnell (R-KY), Portman (R-OH), Rubio (R-FL)